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Google Maps 5.7 for Android: Download maps for offline viewing in Labs, public Transit Navigation beta and more

We’ve just grabbed the Google Maps 5.7 update on our Android phones and it looks to be a pretty interesting update.

There’s a lot that’s cool about 5.7 and lot of which is in an experimental/beta stage as well as permanent non-beta stuff, so we’ll focus on the latter stuff first.

The first thing of note is that a photo viewer has been added to Place pages. This allows you to tap on attached pictures and then get a close up view, swiping left and right through them as if they were pictures saved in your Android phone’s gallery.

Other improvements and tweaks that you get with 5.7 include improved search suggestions that allocate icons to search results; the familiar drawing pin icon for stuff listed on Google Places, a star for any starred locations (natch) a clock for any previous search terms you’ve entered and a magnifying glass for anything that doesn’t fit into that category.

This makes it a little easier to distinguish between venues which might have the similar or same names; Google ‘Mayfair Hotel, London’ for an idea of what we mean.

Navigation has also been fitted out with a couple of improvements; the interface has been streamlined allowing you to get one-click access to step-by-step directions if you’re walking or driving.

Also in beta is a new step-by-step – or rather stop-by-stop – direction service called Transit Navigation. We like the sound of this; the app will vibrate your Android phone when you’re approaching your stop, or will push a notification to the bar if you’re in another app.

It sounds ideal for long journeys asleep next to a window or for taking the bus in an unfamiliar city. We’ve not tested this out ourselves yet – only a handful of UK locations are currently covered. So it’ll be a while before we can try it out on the X3 to Bournemouth – aka The Most Boring Bus Journey In The World Ever.

 

But by far the most interesting thing about this is the new ‘Download map area’ add-on. This works in conjunction with Places, and allows you to download a portion of the map within a ten mile radius of an address you specify.

Once downloaded, you can then access this in the cache settings of Google Maps for offline viewing. As it’s found in the Labs section of Google Maps it’s a bit temperamental – we love the idea though and look forwards to it being included fully in a future Google Maps update.

We used it to save a 10 square mile of central London and like the idea of being able to carry a real London A to Z on our phones. We wonder how much memory it would take to download the entire world – downloading that single 10 square mile saw the cache size leap from 2.1MB to 7.2MB.

If you’ve already got Google Maps on your Android phone you should get the update the next time you head in to the Android Market. If you’ve not downloaded it yet, hit up the link below.

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